Always during this time of year I begin to get the urge to raise silkworms. Recent walks in the neighborhood encourage me when I see mulberry trees leafing out with fresh tender greens. What silkie could resist?
Reading an account of rice farming and poverty in early 1900’s Japan from one of my favorite books “Memories of Silk and Straw” I saw this, adding further to my yearning…
Watching and caring for small creatures such as silkworms is very calming-at least to me. Seeing them eat, grow, and transform is a reminder of so many things. It makes me a little sad that the local schools no longer do this even though they often have mulberry trees on their campuses, originally planted there for this very purpose.
The neighbor kids are home a lot more now so perhaps they might be interested.
I have eggs in cold storage in my fridge which I saved from my last rearing dated July 2018. A bit old and who knows if they are still viable? I took out one set and will test to see if they will hatch. If not, I may order a small amount of eggs just for fun.
Growing up in Japan in the mid ‘60’s we lived in a house owned by a very wealthy Japanese family. It was located high on a bluff which overlooked the port area of Yokohama. As a child we went on field trips to the Yokohama Silk Center and came home with a small box containing one silk cocoon, one small square of silk, one bit of reeled silk. We regularly visited a nearby famous garden (Sankeien).
Later, much later, say 40 years later, I came to realize that the wealth of the owners of that house we lived in was most likely afforded to the family by the main industry of the time-silk. All wealth in Yokohama and in many other areas of japan was driven by silk trade.
That garden we regularly visited was built and owned by a wealthy silk merchant who many decades later donated the property to the city of Yokohama. It had been their family residence. Only in the past ten years did I learn that one of my early schoolmates was a granddaughter of this family and grew up playing and roaming the private sections of this grand place and it was through her connection that special field trips there were arranged.
The Yokohama Silk Center still exists and I make an effort to go again each time I visit.
So yes, I’m feeling a bit nostalgic today and hoping some of the silkworms will hatch. I’ve put them in a warm spot, with some humidity and hoping for the best in this current corona cocoon.
Have to clear my head and get into the correct frame of mind to write a new post here. Things are shifting as always. I’m trying to find my way through it all with my sanity intact and without losing my mind. This song came to mind…
The weekend arashi shibori workshop was wonderful. They were a great group intent on experiencing the process of pleated silk shibori. None had done discharge work so that was interesting to me since that is what I have done so much of all these years. Many had taken workshops with all the greats out there so it was interesting to me to hear of those experiences as we worked. So many things to learn out there! And each participant came with their own goals and intentions which is always fascinating to me. The outcomes were beautifully varied and while I think everyone had one piece that was not their favorite, those were the pieces that taught the most.
There is one more workshop scheduled for this month (which is full) and I am working on putting together another one for March 28-29-30 (listed here). There was one resounding request at the last workshop- that it be expanded to 3 days in order to allow for another piece to be made after seeing the results from day one. I understand this request and will give it a try at the newly listed workshop. It will also give me time to demonstrate additional ideas for anyone who is taking the workshop over again. As I explained to the group, I really enjoy it when people take a workshop more than once as it allows them to build their skill and knowledge, which is important in order to master anything. This is why I enjoy the workshops at the Japanese American National Museum so much. Participants return over and over again to work on shibori…in fact, some have been coming for years! By the way, the next workshop at JANM is March 14-15. Sign-ups are through the museum.
Of time and changes, we are in the middle of so much right now. Trying to find the path forward, searching for a way. So many conversations, looking for the balanced path. Listening… The universe feels out of balance here and somehow, somehow, we must find a way back. For all of us. For the world.
Kokoro means “heart” in Japanese and this past Sunday I participated in the Kokoro Craft Fair at the Japanese American National Museum. The event is staffed by volunteers who organize and run the event to great success in fundraising for the museum’s educational programs and more. They have lots of heart! I have never been able to participate before since it is too close to the show I usually do in Houston towards the end of October/early November but this year since I am not in Houston, it was a pleasure to be able to do this event. As is often the case, since it was only a one day affair, I forgot to take photos as I was focused on what I was doing and engaged with customers and attendees. I met many interesting customers & vendors and thought the overall quality of vendor there was very good. Handmade, no imports, and lots of fun Japanese related crafts from what I could see in my quick walk through as people were setting up. I had a lot of people interested in my classes at JANM (ran out of flyers!) and also in the Silk Study Tour for 2021! Three years ago we had the first Japanese American join us on the tour and this year there were three! It is my distinct pleasure to have more Japanese Americans join us and explore their cultural heritage through the tour. I have to say a little something about the volunteer staff at JANM. Many are senior Japanese Americans and they do so much for the museum! The JANM is a welcoming place and has always made use of volunteer staff. Sometimes I think that we forget how much seniors have to offer, but not at JANM! Some of them are well into their 70’s and 80’s, maybe 90’s! I hope I have as much vitality as they do when I get there! It was a pleasure to work with them at the event! Thank you Kokoro volunteers! I also enjoyed meeting Ann Burroughs the President CEO of the museum for the first time. We had a nice conversation and she even made a purchase of some of my shibori blank cards to use when sending out thank you notes to donors. That was a wonderful thing!
Coming up on October 19-20 at JANM is the second workshop on making a komebukuro (offering bag) incorporating indigo dyeing, boro, shibori, and sashiko. There are only a couple of spots left…. Click for details and signups…
I am busy preparing the material kits and supplies for this class. It’s a bit more work than any of the other workshops so I’m making sure I get a good headstart on it! I am going through all the japanese fabrics from the tour and auditioning the ones I think I want to use for this class. I’ll make another one this week just to settle back into the project.
There are 7 new silk shibori ribbon colors into the shop. All pretty and hard to choose a favorite! One thing I will mention, after making this ribbon for so many years now I surprised even myself by discovering something in the pleating that made a big improvement! Just goes to show you that there is always room for wondering! You can order them in the shop here.
The tree is loaded with pomegranates and is coming all at once so I am also busy processing them both for dyeing and eating. I’m freezing some of the arils for later and drying and freezing the peels for dyeing. I plan to do some special gold pom dyed pieces soon. This here is the largest one I have ever grown- a blue ribbon winner for sure weighing in at over 2 pounds! Pomegranates are time consuming and delicious!
Kuro in a sleepy moment out in the garden and I couldn’t resist taking a photo. He still decides on when and if he wants petting from us, but with the night temps dropping a bit, he actually came in and slept on the bed for a few hours last night! He’s very independent! The feral in him I suppose.
I also added another silk shibori flower making class into the mix for November. I had a few people who wanted to do this but missed the last workshop. It is a small group class and you can see the details here. This will be a fun afternoon and a great time to make a few handmade pretties for holiday gift giving.
I’ve been enjoying following Peggy Osterkamp’s weaving blog as she is touring in Japan visiting many textile sites. She went to Amami Oshima as well and saw some of the same things I did. Seeing it again through her weaver’s eye I learned some things that I didn’t get a chance to learn while I was there. The main part of her trip is traveling around Kyushu which is on my list for my next adventure to Japan. In fact, my son is going there for 3 weeks and spending a good chunk of his 3 weeks on Kyushu. Additionally, John Marshall just sent out a newsletter announcing his new book. I hope I will be able to add it to my workshop library collection of great textile books. It includes over 100 swatch samples and he characterizes it as a “field study guide to Japanese textiles”.
And from my friend Jude who is moving, a look at the place they will now call H O M E. I’ve enjoyed her adventure and will move right along with her.
I’ll end this post with a couple of thoughts that passed my way today which resonated with me. The first one was during an interview with Presidential candidate Andrew Yang- “take a dream and turn it into something.” He also remarked that women are never truly idle. How true! And the other is the last line of a poem that Michelle posted on her FB page today “Everywhere I look, my thoughts run wild.” (‘2011’ by Fanny Howe)
Let’s keep wondering and dreaming and let our thoughts grow wild.
While I still have a couple of post drafts started about the 2019 silk study tour that I just can;t seem to get finished (too much video and photo-sorting bogging me down) I’m here to catch up with other goings on around here.
Obon is in the air! Maybe you had a chance to attend one in your area!
Last weekend we had our natsu (summer) shibori workshop at the JANM. It was a great 2 days of shibori dyeing and discovery. I am so pleased that so many return again and again to further their shibori skills there- and wonderful to see so much progress. The participants who are new to the workshop get lots of suggestions and encouragement from returning practitioners- so fun to see. New friends and new connections.
We had our Sunday morning Shibori Breakfast Club at the Aloha Cafe in Little Tokyo which got us off to a good start fueled with coffee and a delicious breakfast. Sandra introduced us to their spam musubi loco moco style which was really good. Never was a spam eater but I do like a good musubi now and then. Spam has a history from WWII and is a favorite ingredient in several Okinawan dishes and also made its way to Hawaii and the Philippines as a meat staple when times were tough and meat was in short supply. I recently put some cans of spam into our earthquake kit…
There are several upcoming workshops at the JANM…a plant dyeing workshop in September (kusakizome) which is sold out with a waiting list, a repeat of the komebukuro making workshop that we did in January (think there might be some spots still open for that), and on December 7&8 another shibori and indigo workshop(not yet listed on the JANM calendar)- good timing for making some personal holiday gifts.
I also have lots of yarrow so we will have a couple of yellows to play with. We’ll stick to mostly yellows, blue(sukumo-composted indigo), and madder for the red/orange and shift the colors with mordants and overdyeing. We’ll add some avocado skins and pits as everyone wants to try that. We will work predominately on silk but I’ve decided I will bring some assorted fiber swatch packs for everyone to test with. We will be making a dye swatch notebook. I will bring seeds and cuttings so if anyone wants to grow their own, they can. A few of us will get together prior to the workshop to prepare some of the dyestuffs and stock solutions as it does take time.
I planted the marigold seeds before deciding on doing this workshop(fortuitous!) and was thrilled at how well they have done. They are the large bushy type- not the small cute six pack starters sold at the local nursery-so LOTS of big flowers,plus they have kept pests off my nearby veggies since spring. I have tons of seeds to share at the workshop as well. The madder is a bit trickier- it’s about 4 years since I planted it and have never really dug it up. I’m having to soak the area (I didn’t plant in a raised bed with nice soil) to be able to get the roots out. I will relocate it after this! The sukumo is some I brought back from Japan and really only have enough to do a small light vat but that will be enough for our purposes here. The pomegranates are looking great and will be ready by late September so that will be deliciously perfect! We’ll have some pomegranate juice to sip! I’m saving avocado skins and pits in the freezer as are others signed up for the workshop and might see if I can also get some eucalyptus trimmings from the local trees.
Outside of this, the garden is producing nicely-tomatoes, squash, cucumbers, eggplant, parsnips, potatoes and more. The night blooming cactus is just getting started with its nightly display among the jasmine scenting the air-in the past 5 nights alone 91 flowers have bloomed. Quite spectacular! Last night 40 were open and the sliver of a clouded moon peeked out from behind.
I was barely using Etsy over the past year and along with many other smaller sellers of handmade there, are not happy with their decision to only prioritize searches for items with free shipping offered. Now we all KNOW shipping is not free. On Amazon Prime, one pays an annual subscription for “free” shipping. We pay one way or another. Etsy’s suggestion to sellers was to raise the price of items and then to include “free” shipping. How very transparent of them, NOT! The only thing I have in my etsy store are the shibori ribbon scrap bags. So in order to show up in searches, I priced the scrap bags to include the shipping-for FREE! haha. Right. I disclose all this in the listing by the way. The real drag is that if a customer wants more than one, they pay the higher price for both. Not cool. So I recommend going to my website where you can buy all the yardage you want and in the colors you want and it all ships to you for one combined price anywhere in the US ($4). Unfortunately for CA buyers, on Etsy, you also get charged sales tax on shipping now, where you didn’t before (and you don’t on my website as per CA resale laws). Anywhoo… sorry for the mini rant but just wanted to put that out there.
In other news, mills in China are discontinuing weaving certain types of silks. Silk satin for instance. The times they are a-changin’….
wherever you are, i hope you have a gentle summer. may calm winds blow, peace prevail and children continue to sing, dance and wonder!
As a followup to the last post, I continue with the weaving portion of my trip to Amami.
On the way to Higo Dorozome Friday, I saw a sign that read “Oshima Tsumugi Village” so we decided to start there on Saturday. I didn’t realize until afterwards that this is where Jackie did her mud -dyeing workshop (we later compared notes). Since I had already done the sharimbai/dorozome workshop we opted for the basic tour and focused on weaving. They have a good but short tour of the weaving process but the real highlight was the addition of a weaving session on one of their looms where you could weave and keep a length of Oshima silk tsumugi. This was purchased at the beginning of the tour with the entrance fee.
Of course, the plain weaving of a piece of silk oshima tsumugi is a fairly basic process even for a novice. The real work as most weavers know, is in the preparation of the warp and the set-up of the loom. Oshima tsumugi takes this to new heights with its complicated pattern drafting, the precise dyeing of both the warp AND the weft threads prior to measuring and warping the loom. In addition, starch is also applied to the silk threads prior to “shim-bata” weaving as well as after the dyeing prior to warping. the starch or glue is made of specific types of local seaweed.
The process of dyeing the threads: Prior to the late 1800’s, the threads were wrapped with banana plant fiber to resist the dye and form the kasuri patterns. Other methods, from various areas dyeing resisted threads for kasuri weaving, include tying and clamping the threads, but in 1907 two men from Amami in Kagoshima prefecture invented a new method. This consisted of weaving the warps and the wefts temporarily with cotton threads on a special shim-bata loom which resulted in more precise and complicated patterning as well as improvements in production quantity and quality.(The tightly woven cotton wefts over the silk warps resist the dye in shibori-like fashion.)
We saw the preparation of the warping threads-the weaving of the patterns from a precise draft of the pattern desired as well as the additional colored dyeing of the wefts post-dorozome dyeing. Apparently there are 28 (!)preliminary processes that take place in preparation of the actual weaving. Once the loom is warped (we did not see that process) the weaving begins and the weaver takes over. The weaver handles the shuttles adeptly and quickly, stopping every 7-10 centimeters or so to adjust the threads with a sturdy needle and correct any errors in the pattern caused by tension issues, by adjusting the warp threads before continuing on.
I was sat at a loom and after a brief instruction in Japanese and (international hand waving) I wove about 20 centimeters of beautiful plain woven silk, alternating shuttles filled with a variety of solid and multi-colored silk bobbins. It was like magic! The finished piece was a simple striped pattern and the resulting cloth was very smooth and lightweight.
It really is amazing how the skills for this type of silk fabric came to be developed, practiced and cherished by the Japanese of Amami Oshima and beyond. You can really appreciate the very high prices of this fine silk cloth once you have seen it first-hand. You can read about it, see photos & videos, but to experience it first hand- even for a short time is precious. One of the weavers told me she had been weaving for over 40 years. She said that anyone could do it but that it takes 4 years of 8 hours a day weaving to achieve the correct quality as a weaver of oshima tsumugi. I actually thought that might be understated. I told her I have a lot of catching up to do! The whole process is such a team effort and the failure of the materials or quality at any point in the process has the potential to ruin the work of all the prior steps taken by the other artisans to that point. Everyone is very focused on a good outcome.
A couple of other points to note- the silk used is not filature silk, meaning that it is not reeled from the cocoon. It is referred to as a yarn, meaning that it is spun from a silk like mawata. Apparently, sericulture was (is?) practiced on the island but I did not get to see any of that this time. Further research ahead… I’m interested in seeing how the silk used for the Amami oshima tsumugi is spun and prepared for weaving here, who does it, and where. Another note- during our tour of the tsumugi village, our guide/driver Kounosuke tells us that his mother was a weaver on the island before she had children (4). AND that his grandfather was a dyer….he has lived on Amami his entire life and had not seen the weaving process before.
About the guided tour at the Amami Oshima Village: If you are not there to do a workshop, the tour seems quite rushed. They have a specific amount of time devoted to each group before ushering them into the gift shop. I get the impression that there are a lot of casual tourist that go through there by the busloads in the high season. The gift shop does have two parts- the VERY expensive side featuring full kimono, full bolts of woven silk, obi, and various other very fine clothing items and also another side which is filled with fine but more affordable and smaller items- all beautiful and interesting to see. Kounosuke told us that the high season is of course Golden Week, July and August (when school is out and workers have vacation time) as well as during the Hatchi-matsuri or August festival. He said that was his favorite holiday of the year in Amami. Our other guide who did speak English was Yui who grew up in Yokohama (!)and came to live in Amami one year ago after visiting it on vacation. It’s that kind of place.
Here is a photo gallery from the tour:
As before- there is a lot of video to edit so perhaps on the plane I will do some of it. To follow, the rest of the day tripping around Amami and then time traveling again back to Kyoto.
Wednesday’s post was long enough so I didn’t add specific information about the side trip I’m taking after the Silk Study Tour to Japan ends. Prompted by one of the tour participants who is researching the mud dyeing traditions of various cultures and locales, I was inspired to go and see this for myself and add to my Japanese textile knowledge. I will spend 4 days there learning and exploring the textiles of Amami Oshima. Amami Oshima (oshima means island in Japanese) is the northernmost island in the Okinawan archipelago.
While the Ryuku Islands (and Okinawa) are well known for their Indigo dyeing and beautiful weavings using tropical plant fibers, Amami Oshima is known for its tradition of plant and mud dyeing on silk, often supplemented with indigo. Its beautiful and intricate weavings using the previously bound and dyed warp and weft threads are called Oshima Tsumugi. This link has a good description of the process and terms. Japan seems like it is filled with endless opportunities to learn and discover so many textile traditions and this is one I have not previously explored. Interestingly, I realize I have already collected a small sampling of these textiles! I’ve seen them here and there in Japan and picked some up when the price was not too steep just to study and enjoy them. A sampling:
A recent video shows more of the process and the issues facing the economics behind weaving this very time consuming textile. There is also a lot of indigo dyeing that occurs in the Ryukyu Islands perhaps in part due to its tropical and mild climate as well as the weaving of choice bast fibers, especially on Okinawa. I expect I will also see some of that on Amami Oshima as well. I also read where they produce a special type of sake there using sugar cane…will have to try it!
So the fabric collections I will be putting together for you includes one selection that will be collected only from Amami Oshima and I wanted to explain a little bit more about what that was all about. You can see the various collections that can be ordered here in the shop.
I look forward to sharing my Amami Oshima adventures here on the blog in early June.
Another month comes to a close here. We are getting some good rain again and are grateful. A cold and wet day means a good day for working inside and cleaning up paperwork, posting online, and answering emails.
shibori curves… like life and the unexpected curves
first time student was patient and deliberate-guntai shibori
Unfortunately, one of those emails was accepting the cancellation of two spots for this year’s Silk Study Tour to Japan. This year’s tour has been the year of cancellations! Never before have I had this many having to bow out of the tour! Almost all for health reasons unfortunately. What a disappointment for those who have had to back out! Every time I have been able to fill in the earlier spots but now, here we are in the home stretch, having to fill in a couple of spaces. Would you or someone you know like to join us? This tour is an exciting and educational adventure into the textile world of Japan wrapped in the culture and beauty of the Japanese people.
What will you experience?
a visit to a traditional sericulture farm
a visit with an indigo dyer
entrance into the beautiful museum of Ichiku Kubota
a night at a resort hotel overlooking Kawaguchi Lake
tour of a Silk Museum (or two! Yokohama optional)
several nights at a resort spa ryokan (inn) with traditional Japanese baths and a lovely traditional Japanese dinner
two nights in Tokyo Ginza area with free time to visit museums,shop and a day side trip to Kamakura and Yokohama-optional
a stop at a kimono museum (if open)
a visit to an obi weaver
a visit to Tomioka Silk Mill (new World Cultural Heritage site)
a stop at a textile museum
a morning at the famous Kyoto temple sales
a visit to the shibori museum in Kyoto
visit the Amuse Boro Museum in Tokyo(optional) Sadly, this museum is closing March 31
a visit to a washi studio (handmade papermaker)
a visit with a modern sericulturist
and any added invitations we may receive and accept! (we already have a few!)
a workshop with a natural dyer
a workshop with Ton Cara-a silk processing and weaving studio
Not to mention all the small moments that you will experience if you wonder and notice!This year (we always have repeat travelers as it is a trip that can be taken more than once), we have the honor to include once again, the author of the book American Silk, 1830-1930:Entrepreneurs and Artifacts, by Jacqueline Roberts and Madelyn Shaw. This book details the history of silk production in the US and is a wonderful look at early entrepreneurs and the textile mills pre-synthetics. I enjoyed it very much.
Coincidentally, I met Jacqueline at a Costume Society of America convention many years ago when it was in San Diego (2007 or ’08). She had a table in the vendor room and I saw her book on the table as I passed by. Of course I stopped and talked to her and bought the book. It was several years later that she came on the silk tour and I recognized her name. I had to ask if that had been her I bought her book from and of course it was! How interesting that our paths would cross like that!You can book the tour with or without airfare- ask me for the Land Only price. More info here. Single supplement also available. Please share with anyone you know who might be interested!
I have been wanting to get to this post all week but, well…you know. Life, work, local politics, heatwave, gardening…need I go on?
Hope this finds you well and safe from heat, fire, flooding, typhoons, drought and in relative good health! Earth is challenging many!
First off, the update email for the Silk Study Tour to Japan has been sent to those who are signed up to go next year (May 2019). If you are signed up and didn’t receive it let me know. If you are interested in one of the remaining spots here is a link to the basic info and itinerary.
I previously covered my classes at the upcoming Houston International Quilt Festival and online registration is now ongoing. Visit my website for the pertinent details and links.
We just concluded the most recent workshop at the Japanese American National Museum which was really wonderful. They just keep getting better and better! Returning students are really taking on more challenging designs and experimenting. New students jump right in and are encouraged by the returning students. We are now picking a couple of new dates to end the year. Will add to the website and announce as soon as they are finalized.
As I added the link to the JANM I just saw the upcoming exhibit :Kaiju vs Heroes: Mark Nagata’s Journey through the World of Japanese Toys September 15, 2018 – March 24, 2019. This will be right up my alley since I grew up there from 1965-72! Yokohama tomodachi-let’s go! Natsukashii ne…
Anyway, back to the silk moths. The silk moths emerged, mated, laid their eggs and quietly died. The eggs dried, turned grey and are stored in the fridge for now. Here is a little video I put together about this stage. Even the local cat Toby helps out!
After six weeks of silkworm rearing, I have about 400 cocoons. I started off with an order of 500 eggs, so here and there, lost a few. There were no noticeable die-offs of any great number- a good thing that tells me I avoided any major disease issues by keeping the silkworms clean, well fed as well as in good temperature and humidity. It can be a real disappointment when something starts to kill them off. I can only imagine what can happen to large scale sericulturists.
I stifled these today in the oven at about 180 degrees. This will allow these cocoons to be reeled or used in ways where I want a whole uncut cocoon. With about 400 cocoons, if I let them all emerge I would end up with 10,000 or so eggs. I can’t imagine having to feed that many here. In fact, if I did allow the silkmoths to all emerge, mate, and lay eggs they would end up dying by starvation unless I put the eggs into cold storage. I would never be raising that many here anyway. I do have a few folks who wanted to get some eggs from me so I will save some for them. I will store the cocoons in the freezer in a net bag until needed. These cocoons will be used in Houston for my mawata class there along with some I purchased from Nobue Higashi who raises silkworms in Japan.
I should not let you leave this post without paying homage to the life of the silkworm. Yes, I have killed them and have feelings about that. In Japan, there are temples and shrines devoted to the silkworm or sericulture in general. Giving thanks for a good harvest and for the protection of the silkworm until cocooning are common among sericulturists in Japan even today. Shouldn’t we remember to be grateful for everything? There are many shrines devoted to sericulture scattered throughout Japan.
It was perhaps not a coincidence that today I was catching up with Nobue on her blog that I read this post where she talks about just this thing…the google translate is very rough but you can get the jist of it. I am looking forward to seeing Nobue san again next year!
You can read about the silkworm deities at Kaiko no yashiro (蚕ノ社) – the Silkworm Shrine here. It’s an interesting story.
Next year on the Silk Study Tour to Japan we will add a short visit to this Shinto shrine. It is about 20 minutes by car from our Kyoto hotel I am told. If there is not time to add it to the whole group itinerary, I will make time for those interested in a visit here in an early morning trip by taxi.
Following this down a bit further, I found an excellent couple of blog posts on this shrine.